Your Secret to Success May Be Holding You Back.

How to know when your strengths are working against you.

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Chances are, if you are reading this article on Thrive Global, you are (at least in someone’s eyes) successful. You are curious, seek fresh perspectives and take time to “grow yourself” — all hallmarks of achievers.

If I asked you what characteristics made you the success you are, you might list things like: persistence, self-reliance, attention to detail, creativity, tough-mindedness, generosity, skepticism. Walter Isaacson in his new biography of Leonardo Da Vinci shows how part of Leonardo’s genius came from his insatiable curiosity about the world around him. He never stopped seeking fresh approaches to both his art and his science. Science now tells us that some traits may be just the way we are, while others develop based on our life experiences. Not nature vs. nurture but nature AND nurture.

Having interviewed more successful people than I can count over the past twenty years, I can tell you that we all have one or two traits we credit with our success. There is nothing wrong with that unless — it’s the only way we can be.

A few years ago, I worked with an executive in the hospitality industry who kept on keeping on even though her persistence was giving her high blood pressure and an ulcer. Why? Because when she was growing up, her grandmother kept repeating the refrain, only losers quit. Being a quitter was unacceptable. And for many years, this trait served her well — until it didn’t.

She stuck with her job, her spouse, and even employees who made her sick, unhappy and tired — not exactly the feelings of success! Her persistence did help her succeed, but she could only be persistent. She needed to discern what situations were worth her persistence, so that she didn’t put her health and happiness — two indicators of success — at risk.

Similarly, when I was working with a CEO of a disruptive technology company who ran a tight ship, we found that some of the traits that defined his success included being smart, prepared and in control. But while these traits had served him well, his standard of precision was a handicap in areas which required a more fluid approach.

In our interview, I discovered he had grown up with a mentally ill parent whose erratic behavior made everyday scary and unpredictable — especially for a child. The only way for him to survive was to control as many variables as possible. But what made him a success in that situation, wasn’t always working now. In fact, it was limiting his options — making it less likely for him to continue being a success.

Do you want to discover what “success traits” may be holding you back?

Write down the characteristics you believe helped you get where you are today.

Then ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I ever overuse this quality?
  • What is my fear if I’m not “that way” all the time?
  • What is a negative consequence if I am?
  • What’s one way I can experiment being less “that way” (doing a bit of the opposite)? For example, if you are always self-reliant, ask for help; if you are always analytical, try going with your gut; if you must always win, let someone else win.

Even a genius like Leonardo can become trapped by what made him great. Because he was always curious, he found it difficult to complete projects. Imagine if there had been even more singular paintings like the Mona Lisa, rather than so many unfinished projects?

Want to continue to be the success you are? Grow your awareness about your default behaviors and expand your repertoire of responses. I promise it will make your life richer, and isn’t that what success is all about?


Looking for more insights about your strengths and gifts? Check out Live Large: The Achiever’s Guide to What’s Next.